ALIVE HISTORY, PURE NATURE

Even today much of the old beliefs and sensibility of the old world survives in Setomaa. Setos have clung so tightly to their core beliefs that we can still come across customs that the other Finno-Ugric peoples such as the Estonians or Finns have forgotten – for instance, the tradition of graveside repasts in the presence of the dead.

Recent centuries have wrought the most external change in Seto culture. For instance, up to the mid-19th century, Seto women were clad all in white, albeit adorned with red. But in the early 20th century, most women were already wearing clothing featuring a black and white colour combination – with impressive brooches, limited in size only by a family’s means. Making and creating music, always at the heart of Seto life, and the culture of village festivals and celebrations changed as well – at the end of the 19th century, the accordion became the most popular dance instrument than the psaltery and fiddle, which were often played up to then. Many modern dances and tunes were also adopted, which can be heard interspersed with old-fashioned ones at modern Seto village festivals.

Travelling in Setomaa, you can see a wide variety of different villages – Seto farms are primarily located away from one another in dispersed villages, but there are also cluster-type villages where the houses are closer together and even village streets with farms next to each other in a row. One thing that all Seto farms have in common is their closed-off nature, with buildings arranged around a moro (yard). The wealth of a farm has always been expressed in Setomaa by the size and grandeur of its gates.

This type of enclosed farm is indicative of a number of things about Seto history. All kinds of strangers used the trade routes and over the centuries Setomaa has been ravaged by a countless number of battles and wars. The closed nature of the farms helped ward off prying eyes and intruders. One’s home was sacrosanct; strangers were only permitted in the yard and sometimes in the antechamber. But invited guests were always welcomed with great hospitality. We see this in Setomaa today – a good guest will not suffer from a lack of a warm welcome.